A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes, 6: West Toward Home

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Vic Kibler: Adirondack Fiddler Outstanding Folk Recording (American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress) ©1992, Sampler Records, Ltd.
Vic Kibler: Adirondack Fiddler Outstanding Folk Recording (American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress) ©1992, Sampler Records, Ltd.

Listen to Earl Eddy’s Favorite, played by Vic Kibler (fiddle), and  Paul Van Arsdale (dulcimer), from Vic Kibler: Adirondack Fiddler Outstanding Folk Recording (American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress) ©1992, Sampler Records, Ltd.

Now Route 7 is close to the center of my life; when I was in college it was Route 2; when I was a boy it was Route 29. Route 29 led to Saratoga, and that’s where I was last Saturday night. I went to see a Kander and Ebb show, “Curtains.” Not many community theaters have the guts to put up a show that parodies community theater. The quality of the production I saw made me realize Saratoga’s Home Made Theater had little to fear. Not to harp on this, but companies like this one are of great importance to me. Not everything that lives is in New York City. (I remember Roger Rees saying once that some of the best Shakespeare he had seen came from American high school students.) The “Curtains” performance featured a first-rate band led by the excellent Richard Cherry. The trumpet playing of Jonathan Greene had great sweetness. What I loved about the show were the Lt. Frank Cioffi, played by Matt Streifert, and the Niki Harris, played by Mariele Truex. These two convinced me. Nothing was overplayed. Their singing raised the words to a higher level but did not overwhelm the sense. Mariele did an impossible thing. She played an ingenue believably. She found a voice for both singing and speaking which seemed right for the character—not a generalized music theater sound. She was a magnetic figure visually. You watched her. I always look for moments in energetic popular shows which turn real quickly and make us respond with our hearts before we know what has happened, and the singing-acting of these two young artists did just that. The big numbers also were done with skill. No one was amplified, and it worked. There was a sizeable audience who loved the show.

West on Route 29 toward home was where I was a few days earlier. It was a dilapidated old tavern. You had three choices. These were announced to you. No menus. My father was there, three days past his ninetieth birthday. He brought his fiddle. I love how traditional musicians, who have Ozawa memories, stop just a moment to hear the tune in their ear before the rosin flies. They make a private performance, and the public hears a repeat of it which is lesser in some way.  The old ballad singers and fiddlers all do this. Often traditional tunes differ from one another only in the slightest details, details of great beauty and importance. A player who will protest he cannot remember anything, will five minutes later be discussing minute details of melodic contour as naturally as he breathes. If things don’t go well, they all just stop and start over. Maybe classical artists should try this once in a while. My father’s music is a functional music which goes beyond this to become pure beauty when there is no dancing and even when there is. I heard him once playing in private, and he was singing. This he never did in public. Hearing several superb fiddlers in the Troy Music Hall a few years ago, I noticed that the Southern players were far more likely to sing, and the player from Mississippi always sang. My dad is about as Yankee as they come and would never sing in public that way. The singing I heard from dad was a private connection he used to confess how important the music was to him. At the end of the dinner we all started singing somehow. It’s a kind of music professionals call “white gospel:” e.g. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “In the Sweet By and By.” I used to hate it when I was a teenager. Now my ears are more open, and I see how wrong I was.

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